The Washington Post has a powerful piece today about the reaction of the parents of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger who died in a horrible “friendly fire” incident in Afghanistan after quitting the NFL to fight for his country after September 11, to the military’s investigation of Tillman’s death. “The military let him down,” his grieving mother says, because even though reports of the friendly-fire incident had gone all the way up the chain of command, his family wasn’t informed of the fact until well after the much-publicized memorial service last April.
But it’s not until rather late in the article that you realize Tillman’s parents think it’s possible their son’s fellow Army Rangers may have killed him on purpose. His father, who is a lawyer and therefore presumably knows the legal difference been an accidental death and a purposeful killing, calls it a “botched homicide investigation.”
Friendly fire is one of the least-understood aspects of warfare. According to the peerless military historian John Keegan, throughout history as many as 25 percent of all casualties in warfare can be attributed to it. The effort to find a positive image of Tillman’s death might be attributable, as his parents believe, to the military’s fear of recruiting problems if everybody knew the truth. It is just as likely that, as has always been the case in the reporting of friendly fire casualties, the military acted with an eye to comforting the Tillman family by telling a nicer story than was in fact the case.
Tillman’s grieving parents want the soldiers who shot him punished, want the Army punished, want restitution for the tragic end of their son. Part of the horror of a tragedy, however, is that it is not a crime, and therefore there is no restitution possible.